Many an ageing pastor has informed me, usually with tears in his or her eyes, “We have no young people left”.
These churches are often beautiful places, full of God’s presence, but now, sadly, old fashioned and devoid of young people able to take the work to a new stage. I know many, many churches like it around the world.
What I call “Tabernacle Syndrome” is a very real thing among people that love the presence of God. Like Peter, when we experience God’s presence, we want to stop time. We want to build a life in that wonderful place, as our hearts have found the very thing we’ve always longed for – the fullness of God’s presence. You can’t help that feeling; you were designed to long for God.
The result of Tabernacle Syndrome is a church that is full of God’s presence and power, but the congregation are ageing, the décor tired, the songs ancient, the key roles in a church all held by older generations who never let go, or had the opportunity to. It is as though the place stood still when God moved.
But notice “Peter didn’t know what he was saying”. His words were the natural reaction of man’s heart when touched by God, but they weren’t words of wisdom. Jesus had no intention of staying on that mountain, no matter how awesome – He came to reach those in the valley!
For leaders who love God’s presence as a high priority this is a very real challenge. You see, the only thing we need to retain God’s presence is a love and longing for Him. The danger however, is to believe that his presence is an endorsement of everything we’re doing, and therefore, let’s just “build here”. But the result is that, to the world, we appear to stand still, frozen, in time. It doesn’t invite a world in. Eventually, as years roll on, it looks as though “God” is for old people.
But I believe there are leadership insights, wisdom and understanding that must be dug for, searched out, if we are to be of use not just in relationship to God, but to the world. This wisdom might not come in the secret place, but in the place of godly counsel and adventure.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matt 22:37-39
Many presence loving people and churches love God with all their heart and so fulfil the first command, but they fail to fulfil the second, because they don’t realise they need to turn, change, and be renewed in order to embrace new generations.
Turning the hearts of the fathers….
I caused a bit of a stir in our church recently when I preached on the last verse in the Old Testament. It says that God will “come and turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers”, so there is no curse on the land.
I spoke of the fact that a father’s heart turning towards the younger generation is a supernatural thing. It is something that God has to do in our hearts. I naturally trust my own generation, or the experienced ones ahead of me who were my heroes, skilled and full of wisdom. It is easy for me to give them the platform and key roles – I know that they know what they are doing!
But to turn towards a younger generation and give them responsibility, platform, a voice, control – that brings all sorts of questions up about risk, maturity, wisdom, depth and trends I simply don’t understand (Certainly dress sense I’ll never understand!)
But the Bible says the ones who turn first are the fathers. It is always the fathers job to update, understand and embrace the younger generation. When that takes place the younger generation will turn and embrace the fathers. And when younger generations take their places, you won’t just have a present, you’ll have a future!
The apostle Paul was willing to “become all things” in order to reach people. This is a true fathers heart. Are we willing to become more up to date, if it means inviting a new generation to our world? If it means we have sons, successors, legacy?
So how can we turn and embrace a new generation with all its new ways, but not lose anything of the power and presence of God in our churches?
- We need to start by losing the word “protest” from “Protest-ant”! Sadly, many of us Spirit filled denominations have the concept of protesting about truth, deeply ingrained in our culture; it is in our roots (it’s literally how we started!). But, we can be so terrified of error that we protest and reject each other continuously and inappropriately. To stay fresh, we need to start enjoying the wonderful colours and differences in the body of Christ. Go see churches that look different, sound different, feel different and admit we have something to learn! We need to be honest about our fearful defence mechanisms, and silly theological ideas that try to make others out as heretics (With the harsh measure you judge, you’ll be judged!). We need to get our L-plates on and start learning again.
- Go sit with a pastor who seems to be doing better at this than you, and ask for help/advice.
- We need to give a younger generation time on our platforms. In our worship teams, in our service leading, in testimonies, in preaching. If all the younger generation get to do is a Friday night youth meeting then the church will never truly belong to them.
- Get some younger people on your leadership team. Invite them in as apprentices for a year. Listen to their opinions; you will find that in return they will listen to yours. Mentor them, take them on missions, help them have adventures in God.
- Allow the younger generation to be in charge of the decor, staging, technical systems, web presence. It will come naturally to some of them, and I have found it does not affect the depth or power of God’s presence at all, whatever colour stage you’re on, no matter how bright the lights, or how cool the website. Trust me, if you let them have some influence, they’ll listen to you and learn about other stuff – ‘cos you’ve shown you care.
- Don’t aim for overnight change – make it a 3 year development plan to change how you embrace younger ideas as a church culture from this point on.
- Buy some skinny jeans. (joke)…please don’t.
“One generation will commend your works to another”. O Lord, let this be our testimony, as the fathers turn to the children and invite them into their world.
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